A friend of mine once commented that she didn't understand why people watch cooking shows on TV. You can't smell it and you certainly can't taste it so what's the point? If you're like me, though, watching a good cooking show is right up there with finding out who got kicked off the island this week. Cooking shows have colour, heat, wisdom. Above all else, they have the possibility to transfer some tid bit of knowledge, some technique or way of looking at things that could help you transform an everyday task into something extraordinary. Now that's good TV!
Modern technology and hungry audiences have made it possible for tons of this stuff to come into our homes (sometimes in HD) and show us new parts of the cooking word. They cook, bake, entertain and compete, and we cannot help but watch (even I have fallen prey every now and then to the addiction of Hell's Kitchen). How could anyone watch an old Julia Child program (even the old black and white ones) and not be inspired by her enthusiasm for the creation of good food? And I'm constantly baffled by Heston Blumenthal's molecular gastronomy experiments. Not that I could ever bring myself to cook a duck confit like Child or recreate Blumenthal's culinary chemistry - but it's all lovely to watch and damn entertaining.
Now, not all cooking shows are created equal. Like any good show, there needs to be the right balance of charismatic host, conflict building and resolution, showmanship and camera work. You just can't paint them all with the same pastry brush! America's Test Kitchen is no Nigella Lawson Forever Summer. Christopher Kimball can never compare to that Nigella sexy charm. And I have found, through years of observation, that my cooking show needs have changed as my abilities and interests evolve.
For example, to this day I still love watching episodes of the Urban Peasant for endearing purposes, but fully understand that James Barbour's "dash of this" and "just throw that in" approach will get me no where in the baking word. I also love watching the rich colours and sounds of Rick Bayless' Mexico One Plate at a Time, but I can't find half the products he uses where I live. And no matter how interested in food and cooking I become, I will probably never figure out a Martin Yan recipe in my life.
But you just try to watch any of these shows and not become fascinated with what you see on the TV before you. It's inspiration and the possibility to turn an the everyday occurrence of making food and eating into something wonderful. It's passion, chemistry, charisma and - most importantly - food.